Beeing Better

For the first time in the U.S., bees made the federal list of endangered species last October. Seven species of the important pollinator, all native to Hawaii, are threatened with disappearing forever, and until we properly address the pesticides and environmental stresses that are likely causing bee colony collapse, we’ll no doubt see more bee species added to the list in the future. In the meantime, we can all help make the lives of bees a little better by following these tips from Jack Bresette-Mills, local bee expert and author of the 2016 book, “Sensitive Beekeeping: Practicing Vulnerability and Nonviolence with Your Backyard Beehive.” 

Think Pollination, Not Poison: The pesticides and weed killers that Americans dump on their lawns and shrubs can be just as deadly to bees as they are to the unwanted bugs and plants. “We employ people whose job it is to keep bugs off plants,” says Bresette-Mills. “And it works too well.”

Embrace Flower Power: Plant sage and flowering rosemary in your yard and bees will come back to these perpetual bloomers again and again throughout the year. Bresette-Mills also suggests planting native wildflowers and whatever well-adapted plants your local nursery may recommend. Or, simply walk around your neighborhood and note the flowers that bees prefer. “If you figure out a plant they like, then plant it in your yard to encourage them to come,” he says.

Go Organic: Switch to organic foods grown without pesticides. “Spending a few pennies more for organic produce can make a difference,” says Bresette-Mills. “You won’t just be helping the bees in your area, but bees everywhere.”

Pay More for Honey: Bresette-Mills says that inexpensive honey found at the store was likely gathered from bees raised in poor conditions. “You can’t produce honey for the pennies that people produce it for without being mean to the bees,” he says. Until a watchdog group comes along to monitor honey production with the same scrutiny as afforded the meat and dairy industries, it’s up to us to discourage unethical beekeeping. 

Show a Little Respect: Consumers may have embraced the more humane treatment of cows, poultry, pigs and other livestock, but they may be slower to embrace it with bees because few think of them as fellow animals, says Bresette-Mills. “If we don’t think of them as animals, we don’t think of them as suffering, and we don’t wake up to the problem.” 

Host a Hive or Two: Bresette-Mills recommends setting up at least two hives in your yard. “Most hives don’t live that long, so having just one colony that dies out is depressing,” he says. “Start with two or three colonies and you won’t even notice the difference.”

Don’t Bee Afraid: Thinking better of bees begins with addressing our fear of being stung. Bees won’t sting unless they’re protecting their home, so don’t treat them as the enemy. “They’re not yellow jackets,” says Bresette-Mills.

By Steve Wilson